Gov. Phil Bryant hosted a healthcare and economic development summit in Jackson on Thursday, touting the state’s gains and boasting the work on a multi-million dollar development on the Gulf Coast.

But leaders of that Gulf Coast development – a “medical city” called Tradition, home to several healthcare entities and postsecondary education institutions – released an economic report the same day as the summit that counters many of the governor’s claims about the prosperity and well-being of the state, including the state’s outmigration of its young people.

“When we analyze population estimates by age, we see that Mississippi is losing people at the age when they would be entering their prime earning years, while other states are gaining them,” the Tradition report read.

The Tradition report cited data from the U.S. Census Bureau that clearly defines the problem: Mississippi is losing millennials faster than any other state in America.

As America’s millennial population became the nation’s largest age demographic between 2010-2016, Mississippi’s millennial population dropped by 35,013 people — about the population of Tupelo. Mississippi, according to the Census data, is the only state in the nation losing millennials this quickly.

Bryant has denied that the problem exists in Mississippi several times, citing research conducted by the National Strategic Planning and Analysis Research Center (nSPARC) at Mississippi State University.

“A reminder since the liberal media is all too happy to put bad news on the front page,” Bryant wrote on May 5, referencing a Mississippi Today brain drain article and directing his followers to an nSPARC report. “Here are the facts, supported by data, that refute the lazy Fake News narrative about Mississippi’s population.”

“There they go again. Liberals at an online Democratic propaganda machine are misleading Mississippians about population facts,” Bryant wrote on May 3, again referencing a Mississippi Today article. “Mississippi is at the national average in both Millenials (sic) as a percentage of total population and percentage of college graduates who stay in state.”

The nSPARC report suggests that Mississippi’s population declines are attributable to a declining teenage pregnancy rate and a lack of international migration into the state, and that while millennials are leaving, the state’s total population hasn’t declined.

“When we look at the total share of the millennial population, Mississippi is right on the national average, suggesting that the state’s millennial population is stable,” the report states.

At the summit on Thursday, Bryant talked in detail with a Mississippi Today reporter about the opportunities and problems chronicled in the Tradition report, including the outmigration of young people.

Question: “Did you see the economic impact report for the Tradition Medical Community?”

Governor Phil Bryant gives a speech during the Neshoba County Fair in Philadelphia, Miss. Thursday, August 2, 2018.

Bryant: “I did, absolutely I did. I just had an opportunity to scan it yesterday, but the numbers (on the economic impact of the medical community) were phenomenal. We’ve known it all along, we’ve talked about healthcare as an economic driver. And that particular area on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, we’ve seen some numbers also of the lower level of income on the Gulf Coast. I think the Gulf Coast Business Council has talked about that. (Hancock Bank President) John Hairston has actually put out a very good report which shows that some of the income levels on the Gulf Coast are not as good not only on a national level but even on a state level.

“Tradition is so important to be able to meet those higher levels of income, particularly in the health care industry. But just the ability for that community to draw a new nursing school with Gulf Coast Community College, I believe the population there is 900 nursing students. Also a new pharmacy school. We’ve had one pharmacy school in the state of Mississippi since the beginning of the state. Now we have a second one. And the Cleveland Clinic now with their diabetes and obesity research center is again a phenomenon and growing. So you’ll see additional expansion, I think probably 9,000-10,000 jobs that will be created there in the health care community and for the future. So I’m very proud of what’s going on at Tradition.”

“Now of course the report also had sort of a negative outlook on the overall economy of Mississippi – poverty rates, outmigration…”

Bryant: “Sure, things we’ve been living with since after the Civil War. If you look at the state of Mississippi it’s been challenging. Literally, I remind people that we had a Civil War, we had great floods, on the Mississippi Gulf Coast you had Katrina and then the spill. We have been able to do a remarkable job of overcoming many of those things in the last decade. 4.7% unemployment. If you look at the growth even now in the budget process, we had a very good first month: $10 million more than projected, $39 million remaining on FY18. More people working now in Mississippi than ever before.

“I look at judging Mississippi against Mississippi. It’s hard to (take) places, and I know people love to do it and say, ‘Well let’s do it in comparison to Tennessee.’ You’ve got a state over there what’s that 8-9 million population. We are unique. You might be able to compare us to Arkansas, West Virginia, Kentucky. So those are the states that I think we are in an area of comparison with, and we ought to win.”

“Does that mean that we should have lower expectations for the economy in Mississippi?”

“Oh absolutely not, but we should realize that if you’re going to compare Mississippi, do so on a fair and equitable scale. If you’re going to compare Mississippi to a state that has 8-9 million population, it’s hard for us to say that we should be compared to a Georgia or Tennessee or Florida. But certainly we’re going to compete in the region of states that has equal population, that has similar social geographic opportunities, but I think if you compare us also to a decade ago and look at the success that we have, that’s a more reasonable comparison.”

“What do you think we should do about these issues, the poverty, the outmigration? Does the outmigration, in particular, concern you?”

“Well I think the outmigration is something you have to look into very carefully. As I talk to some experts in the field, they talk about we don’t have as many births as we once had, particularly in teens. Teen pregnancy is down about 26 percent. If you look at the number of people who are not migrating here, for example from South American and Mexico, not at the higher levels that you see in some of the others states. I think we’re going to have to continue to improve on what we are doing. I think you’re going to have to look at 80 percent graduation rates in our high school, which are dramatic improvements over what we had. The growth of our research universities, the growth of technology industries in the state, advanced ship building, radar systems – just the other day we saw the testing of a new propulsion system for Aerojet Rocketdyne. I talked to five different aerospace industries in one day at Stennis Space Center. So we go out every day and try to make Mississippi better than it was yesterday.”

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Larrison Campbell is a Greenville native who reports on politics with an emphasis on public health. She received a bachelor’s from Wesleyan University and a master’s from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.Larrison is a 2018 National Press Foundation fellow in public health, a 2019 Blue Cross Blue Shield Foundation of Massachusetts fellow in health care reporting and a 2019 Center for Health Journalism National Fellow.

Adam Ganucheau, as Mississippi Today's editor-in-chief, oversees the newsroom and works with the editorial team to fulfill our mission of producing high-quality journalism in the public interest. Adam has covered politics and state government for Mississippi Today since February 2016. A native of Hazlehurst, Adam has worked as a staff reporter for, The Birmingham News and The Clarion-Ledger and his work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post and Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Adam earned his bachelor’s in journalism from the University of Mississippi.